In The Darkness – Good Friday – April 6, 2012 – John 19: 30 – 42

I think we often look to the Disciples and the Biblical accounts of their action for the ways in which we should live as followers of Jesus Christ.  By Disciples, I mean those 12 guys; we hear very little about the rest of his followers.  The texts we read during Holy Week, especially Good Friday, don’t leave a good picture of those guys and what we should do as people of faith.  You see, according to the Gospel of John, one betrayed him, another got violent then denied knowing him, and they all abandon him once he was arrested.

 Through much of the Gospels, the Disciples are portrayed with faith very much like you and I.  They are taught and re-taught about Jesus’ mission.  They are told and re-told about Heaven.  They see miracle after miracle performed.  They were finally starting to see the Light, the Light we saw shine brightly on Christmas night.  Their path had been illuminated by the Light of the world.

Then, their leader and teacher was crucified.  The Light seemed to have been extinguished.[1]  While teaching the Disciples, Jesus had alluded to an hour that would come.  It was clear in His teachings that that hour would bring death.  And, the hour had come.

During his trial, Jesus was questioned not only about himself and his teaching, but also his Disciples.  The Disciples had good reason to scatter out of fear of the Jews and the Romans.  Jesus was found guilty of treason and was perceived to be a threat to the Roman emperor’s reign in Judea.  Jesus’ sentence by the Romans was crucifixion.  And, the Disciples were guilty by association – if Jesus was a traitor, then so were his Disciples.[2]

Jesus’ crucifixion was meant to squelch His movement.  “The mocking of Jesus, stripping him, spitting on him, whipping him, and executing him by hanging him naked on a cross to die of suffocation were all intended not simply to kill Jesus.  This brutal public humiliation was also intended to kill His movement by publically discrediting him in the eyes of the merely curious, and making an example of him to his committed followers – It was to say…”This is what we’ll do to you too!”[3]

 After Peter’s denial of Jesus, we don’t hear about the Disciple guys again.  There may have been one at the crucifixion, but we don’t definitively read about them again until after the empty grave was found by the women.

But, we can’t blame them for scattering to hide.  Jesus had been teaching them about the coming Kingdom of God.  They had left their life behind to follow Him.  They were expecting something big to happen summoning in God’s justice.  But, before any of that could happen, Jesus abandon them and their hopes for freedom from the Romans.  The Romans kill him before the glorious reign of Jesus could come. 

What are they left to do but retreat and figure out what was true?  How much can we be like those Disciples?  Just when things get tough, we bail.

A dark night of the soul might be as close to what the Disciples were going through as we’ve ever faced.  I don’t know how recently any of you have had one.  I know we’ve all experienced one – you may be going through one now.  For anyone with mental illness, they can seem to be months at a time.  I know we’ve all experienced a dark night.

These times can be as bad as broken promises, lost hopes, unanswered prayers, severed relationships, divorce, or loss of a loved one.[4] 

A dark night might simply be one bad night or a day, one of those days that you want to go back to bed and start over.  You know, you wake up late, you burn your shirt ironing, you’re out of milk so skip breakfast, you get even further behind because you have to stop for gas…and that’s just the beginning of the day.  On these days, we just ask God to cut us a break.

Sometimes, we feel hopelessly forsaken.  We might try to discredit our pain by reminding ourselves that someone else has it worse.  But, when honest with ourselves, we feel betrayed by God. 

On those dark nights, much is revealed to us in the darkness.  We see how quickly we abandon God when we think He has abandon us.  Our anger turns from the situation to fall square on the shoulders of God.  For many of us, our prayers will stop being for intercession.  Our prayers become cries of forsakenness, “Why, God, why?”  We may even plea with God, “I’m a good person and I don’t deserve this.  You know, God, what that other person did is far worse than I have ever done, but everything is fine in her life.”

In that time, all of our prayers and hopes seem to be suspended somewhere between Heaven and Earth[5] – not seeming to make it to God’s ear.  It is ironic how much is revealed to us in the darkness.[6]  Oh, how much we are like those Disciples when we’ve reached the end of our ropes.

Differently, our end of the rope often leads us to kneel at the foot of the cross where Jesus died and His earthly ministry is finished. 

At the foot of the cross is where we encounter Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus.  The finale of the story of Jesus’ death is reached as Jesus’ crucified body is taken from the cross for burial. 

Joseph of Arimathea comes to claim the body.  He is joined by Nicodemus who comes with spices for a proper burial.  Nicodemus was a Pharisee and a member of the Jewish ruling council.  He had originally sought Jesus by night.  It was Nicodemus that Jesus told:

“God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” 

Joseph of Arimathea was also a prominent member of the ruling council.  These 2 men were secretive about their faith out of fear of retaliation by their colleagues among the Jewish authorities. 

Their faith had been hardly adequate and definitely cowardice and now had come full circle to make such a public display of their faith.  The death of Jesus seems to have emboldened them to act on his behalf.  Their faith was so strengthened that these 2 leaders of the Jews handled the dead body of one executed as an enemy of the state just before the beginning of a holy day.[7]  Not the Disciple guys, but 2 secret believers make so bold an action out of faith in Jesus. 

Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea must take the body of Jesus from the cross and bury it before nightfall.   These two, only these two, do it; everyone else has fled, everyone has deserted Jesus. 

Both Joseph and Nicodemus were observant Jews and observed the Jewish burial customs for Jesus.  Their work had to be done before sundown when the Sabbath began.  While everyone else was making their preparations for the Sabbath rest by preparing that day’s food and performing the tasks banned on the Sabbath, Joseph and Nicodemus were burying Jesus. Since burying the body required lifting and carrying it, which were tasks prohibited on the Sabbath, the burial had to be finished before sundown. [8]

They lovingly wrapped the body of Jesus and gently carried Him to the tomb.  This tomb was new, no one had been buried in it.  Joseph of Arimathea had probably bought it for he and his family.  Once they had tenderly laid Him in the tomb, they anointed his body.  The quantity of burial spices was a statement of faith as there was enough for a royal burial.  There were about 100 Roman pounds that is about 75 pounds for us.  With all this care, Joseph and Nicodemus had given Jesus a royal burial fit for the King of the Jews. 

 As they left, the stone was rolled over the mouth of the sepulcher and Jesus is left in the darkness of the grave.[9]  Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus laid aside their fear and openly paid homage to the crucified Jesus.  Those once in the darkness had come out into the light.[10]  Good Friday invites all to join in God’s action of redemption – the reluctant like Nicodemus and the late bloomer like Joseph and saints.[11]

As much as we are like those 12 Disciple guys, we shouldn’t berate ourselves too much.  We too can be like Joseph and Nicodemus.  At some point, under the darkness, our strength is revealed. 

Let me be clear, I do not believe God makes bad things happen to us to test us or strengthen us.  I do believe that we are strengthened by God and our strength is revealed in bad times.

The path may be lonely.  The weight may seem too much to bear.  It may seem the veil of darkness has fallen upon us never to be lifted again.  But, by the grace of God, we make it through.  We face adversity and stand in our faith.

The Apostle Paul has great words of encouragement for us in those dark nights.  Philippians Chapter 4 verses 4 – 9 read:

4 Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! 5 Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. 6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. 8 Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things. 9 Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.

Paul continues in verses 12 & 13:

12 I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. 13 I can do all this through him who gives me strength.

 Thanks be to Paul for these words.

We can do all things through Christ who strengthens us.  We can make a stand for righteousness in the face of darkness. 

May you continue to seek God’s grace in the darkness as Christ rests in the grave,
     until you see the glorious light of the Risen Christ,
Rev. Tracy


[1] Feasting on the Word

[2] Redditt, Paul L. Source: Interpretation, 61 no 1 Ja 2007, p 68-70. Language: English Publication Type: Article (AN: ATLA0001557805)

[3] Ibid.

[4] Feasting on the Word

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Redditt.

[9] “Nicodemus,” James T. Dennison Jr., in Kerux: The Online Journal of Biblical Theology (Reformed). 

[11] Feasting on the Word

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